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Lok Sabha passes Bill to unlock over Rs 40,000 crore for increasing forest cover in India

NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday unanimously passed the much awaited Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, 2015 that aims to ensure expeditious utilization of accumulated unspent amounts to the tune of around Rs 40,000 crore for increasing forest cover in India. The amount has been lying idle with an ad-hoc central body for over 10 years.

The Bill is likely to be passed by the Rajya Sabha next week. The proposed legislation will also ensure expeditious and efficient utilization of Rs 6000 crore per annum, accrued as compensatory levies and interest.

The utilisation of these amounts (mostly by states) will facilitate timely execution of measures to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land in the country. It will also result in creation of productive assets and generation of huge employment opportunities in the rural and tribal areas.

"India in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (submitted to the UN body on climate change as part of the Paris Agreement) has committed to create 2.5 billion tonnes of additional carbon sink. The (passing of the) Bill will be a great enabler", said Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar after passing of the Bill in Lok Sabha.

Calling it a "historical legislation", Javadekar said the passing of the Bill would give a major boost to the country's efforts to increase its forest cover.

Any user agency which diverts forest land for non-forest purpose is, at present, required to deposit prescribed amount to an ad-hoc central government body. This amount is supposed to be utilized to mitigate impact of diversion of the forest land.

However, the amount to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore (as on date) — accumulated over the past 10 years with the ad hoc body, Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) — remains unspent.

The purpose of the proposed legislation is, therefore, to provide safety, security and transparency in utilization of these amounts, which are currently kept in different nationalised banks at the behest of the ad-hoc body.

The proposed legislation is aimed at setting up the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund at centre and the State Compensatory Afforestation Fund in respective states. Majority of the collected fund will be spent by the states for afforestation and other related works including forest regeneration and wildlife protection.

The Bill also provides for setting up a national authority at centre and state-level authority in respective states to monitor the utilisation of the funds.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in May last year. After introducing the Bill in Lok Sabha, the government had referred it to a parliamentary standing committee on the opposition's demand. The committee had on February 26 submitted its report to the Parliament, suggesting certain amendments in the Bill.

Since the government accepted most of the suggestions of the standing committee, it did not face any opposition to the Bill in Lok Sabha. The legislation will extend to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir.


May 03, 2016, Times of India